Dec 4, 2019
‘Jersey Boys’: Clint Eastwood’s Got No Rhythm
We were kind of intrigued to see “Jersey Boys,” the adaptation from the Broadway musical, which is an adaptation from a book, which is an adaptation from real life. There was something charming about the idea of serious old macho-man Clint Eastwood directing a dorky musical. We were into the idea!
Sadly, Eastwood might be a formidable gentleman and a talented director, but he ain’t no song-and-dance man. And it shows, good God, it shows. This tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ rise to cultural dominance has no center, no energy, and most egregious of all, no swing.
We have not seen “Jersey Boys,” so our knowledge of the musical is limited. That said, this plays less like a stage musical and more like a traditional biography anyway (it’s more “Ray” than “Hairspray”). None of the characters burst spontaneously into song, and no one sings except the people who are supposed to be musicians. The Four Seasons (called the Four Lovers before they name themselves after a bowling alley) wander from scene to scene, showing their roots as boys from the neighborhood, to guests of honor at fabulous parties in New York penthouses, to their destruction at the hands of one member with a gambling habit, to Valli’s (John Lloyd Young) triumphant return from debt and notoriety.
This is a story we’ve all heard before, but in Eastwood’s hands it seems muddled and schizophrenic. Characters flit in and out of the screen, simultaneously being really important to the plot and not nearly important enough. There’s Valli’s wife (Renee Marino), a hot-tempered Italian woman, who seems to be interesting until you learn that she’s just there to get drunk and bust Valli’s balls. Eastwood put a filter on the camera, trying I guess to make it feel more gritty and funereal. But “Jersey Boys” is not a gritty piece. It’s the pop musical you bring your aged aunt and uncle to during their trip to New York City when “Mamma Mia!” is sold out.
Vincent Piazza, as band ringleader Tommy DeVito, is one of the bright spots. Of the four leads, he’s the one with the most film and TV experience (he had a recurring part on ‘Boardwalk Empire” as Lucky Luciano). He’s clearly more comfortable in front of the camera, and taps into that manic, wiseguy, Scorsese patois more naturally than the rest of the group. The others seem like ciphers, especially Valli, but Tommy is a fully-fledged character with energy and focus. Ditto with Mike Doyle playing Bob Crewe, the “theatrical” music producer who get the Four Seasons on a contract. Crewe’s character could easily fall into the “hilarious sassy fairy” hole but Doyle rescues him by making him a shark-like opportunist. But what I cannot forgive is the gross underusage of Christopher Walken as a local mobster with no song or dance numbers, no plot involvement and no personality.
Every possible Italian stereotype is alive and well; the best example is a lingering shot of a clock in Valli’s childhood home framing photos of both Sinatra and the Pope. But what’s really infuriating are the women of “Jersey Boys.” They serve two roles: either they’re the Italian mothers and wives who are there to be loud and drink and make food with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, or they’re the rotating bevy of mistresses and hangers-on who are there to dress in ’60s mod dresses, fuck the band members and be stupid. They get maybe four lines each, and we’re supposed to be charmed by the way the gentleman hilariously tell them to shut their pie-holes before they give them a slap.
Now that’s entertainment.